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Military Myths and Negative Stereotypes

A Military Counseling Resource and Practice Guideline

Mark A. Stebnicki, Ph.D., LPC, DCMHS, CRC, CMCC


            Multiple myths, stereotypes, and stigma have existed throughout the centuries concerning military service members and veterans. Myths and stereotypes can be both negative and positive and many times are determined by the unique characteristics of each war and generation. Politics, DoD policies, and government programs also influence our attitudes and perceptions of active service members, veterans, and their family. Consequently, many medical and mental health professionals are influenced by these societal attitudes and beliefs about the military culture. It is paramount that military counseling and related professionals do not simply accept the Hollywood, electronic and print media’s version and portrayal of this unique culture. Thus, the intent of this Military Counseling Resource and Practice Guideline is to promote facts about the military culture and challenge the myths and negative stereotypes that hinder service members’ ability to live life optimally. There is an extensive list of myths, stereotypes, and stigma that is attributable to the military culture; too many to list. Indeed, there are long-term medical/physical, psychological, emotional, social, occupational, career, and spiritual consequences to living life under this cloud of stigma. Overall, negative stereotypes can affect individual providers’ behavior and the way in which programs and services are facilitated. It is critical that medical and mental health professionals are educated on the facts because they are pivotal in providing therapeutic engagements with active duty personnel, veterans, and family members.

All Active Duty Service members, Active Reservists, and Veterans are eligible for VA Benefits.

NO- Not everyone in the military qualifies for a full range of benefits (i.e., healthcare, mental healthcare, access to the Base/Post Exchange store (PX/BX), Post 911- GI Bill/Educational). Those eligible for VA benefits after they qualify include Veterans, Reservists, National Guard members, and family members related to the Veteran such as dependents or a surviving spouse. To qualify for VA benefits, the military member must demonstrate continuous service for either 24 months or the complete amount of time ordered for active duty service. Veterans cannot have a dishonorable and in some cases an “other/less than honorable” discharge to receive VA benefits. National Guard or Reservists cannot have been on active duty just for training purposes alone to receive VA benefits. Exceptions allow those injured during active duty service to obtain benefits. However, a Medical Board of inquiry determines disability ratings (i.e., 10%-100% partial, total and permanent disability based on the grid rules codified by law) while in service. As for Veterans’ benefits, a decision is made based on a coordination between the branch of service that the individual served (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force) and the Veterans Administration. Overall, eligibility is not automatic and not all service members receive the same exact benefits because of the variances in rank, length of time in service, MOS, as well as other factors. All service members and veterans must have a comprehensive record of medical, physical, and mental health impairments to receive their eligible benefits. There are multiple other documents that are also developed at the time of separation from service that are required by the DoD (i.e., after-action combat reports, mission-sensitive documents, personal file information) to determine benefits earned.

All branches of service have basically the same core values because the mission is the same-To protect American lives and provide a lethal fighting force to neutralize the threat of enemy combatants.

NO- The mission and core values of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are distinctly different. For example, Marines are equipped for offensive amphibious attack and are attached to Naval ships deployed to sea (i.e., Marine Expeditionary Unit or MEU). Core values of Marines are “honor, courage, and commitment.” The Army provides prompt, sustained land domination across the full range of military operations with use of heavy fighting equipment, and paratroopers dropping into enemy territory to engage enemy combatants. Core values of the Army are “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.” The Navy is a combat-ready force capable of deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. The military’s principle occupation is war-fighting. However, individuals differ as to their MOS and direct involvement in combat theater or combat space. Statistically, only 46% of service members are deployed to combat operations. The remaining service members are “in support” of combat operations. Even those assigned to combat units may not be “dirty boots”, involved downrange engaging enemy combatants, or in forward operations warfighting.

Active Duty service personnel and Active Reservists basically are equivalent in status.

NO- Reserve units typically have fewer benefits and do not live on their military installation even though they may be called to active duty and deployed OCONUS. Despite Officer and NCO ranks the chain of command may differ according to CONUS military installations. Although during OCONUS combat deployments Officer and NCO ranks and chain of command are more equivalent among Active Service members and Active Reservists. To further differentiate, the Reserve component is comprised of Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), Standby Reserve, and Retired Reserve. The IRR are personnel and Inactive National Guard (ING) personnel who have completed their military contract, may have inactive time left during which they are not actively serving. However, IRR and ING can be called back to active duty with a “warning notice” to report to duty within a specified time (days or weeks). The Retired Reserve is the largest of the Reserve components with over 2 million members who are former military personnel under age 60 and those who have retired from the military and receive retirement pay and benefits depending upon when they enlisted, their MOS, rank, and other factors determined by the DoD.

Most all Military Service Members deployed to hostile combat areas return with PTSD and other co-occurring mental health conditions.

NO- The Institute of Medicine’s Committee published a 2013 report for the Department of Defense (DoD) titled “Returning Home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families” that indicated approximately 49% of those who have deployed to combat theater return home with posttraumatic stress symptoms. There are of course co-occurring conditions that are documented separately (i.e., TBI, SUDs, Anxiety, Depression, Sleep Disorder, Suicide Ideation) which become complex-PTSD and are difficult to treat. Recent statistical analysis of SUDs indicate that opioid addictions and substance abuse among veterans is no different than civilians. Another myth is that all military service members have PTSD which is a false assumption. Adjustment Disorders, as classified in the DSM 5, have recently become the most prevalent condition diagnosed across a variety of mental health settings among active duty service members. The prevalence and incidence of PTSD is much higher after a chronic medical condition and physical injury. The diagnosis, by a qualified mental health professional of severe PTSD, can result in a service-connected disability. In some cases, the active duty service member may lose their security clearance, use of weapons, and ability to be deployed again. Multiple deployments can result in more severe symptoms and symptom management especially if left untreated.

Military Reservists and National Guard have much less mental and physical health problems than fully-enlisted Active Duty service members.

NO- Research suggests that the prevalence of PTSD and other co-occurring mental health conditions are higher (up to 30% PTSD among Reserves and NG vs 19% full active duty). This is thought to occur because when Reservists and National Guard return home from deployment they return to their home towns, are not qualified to live on military installations, and may have to return to their part or full-time civilian job. The consequence of being detached from a Base or Garrison is inadequate services, untrained medical and mental health professionals who understand the military culture, and civilian communities that do not have an awareness of the military culture and the life-style. Overall, there are many more medical and mental health readjustment issues that arise among Reservists and National Guard because they are not associated with or receive services from their unit/battalion on a Base or Garrison.

Active Reservists and Veterans have a job advantage over civilians within the hiring process.

No- While some Federal or GS jobs with DoD contracts provide a hiring advantage for veterans many other employers and organizations do not hire veterans. Research suggests that many employers, companies, and organizations fear hiring veterans because of the negative “mental health” stereotype attributable to veterans (i.e., “they could go postal”, “they all have PTSD”). Fortunately, there are a group of small, medium, and large businesses and companies on the rise that have promoted hiring veterans. The VA has an “Employment Toolkit” which advocates and educates employers about the highly desirable worker traits of veterans. Anyone who has been in-service to our country certainly understands taking orders, the chain of command, knows how to show up to work on time, works well under pressure, is a good problem-solver, has a higher level of maturity and life experience than their civilian counterpart due to global deployments, mobilizations and working with different world cultures, and particularly has advance training and a unique set of skills. Why would you not want to hire a veteran? Again statistically, only 46% of military service members are deployed to combat operations while the remainder are in-support of combat operations.

Female Service Members are not deployed to combat operations for other hostile areas

No- Approximately 14% of all service members are female. They have the same training in boot camp but are separated from their male counterparts. Gender-integrated units engage in the same missions, military careers, and ranks as male military service members. Women are assigned to combat missions. Women also die during combat operations. Research by the DoD suggests that gender integration in non-combat units has no effect on unit cohesion. Despite some alarming statistics on military sexual trauma (MST) this does not generally represent the loyalty, service, and mission of the men and women who enlist, train, and deploy to hostile regions in service to our country.

Military life is incompatible with marriage and raising a family

No- Despite frequent geographic relocations the marriage rate among military personnel is slightly higher than civilians (52% vs 48%). Among Officer Ranks in the military, 70% are married. Families are more connected now than ever because of digital communications. Smartphone capabilities, Skype, and Facetime keep families connected during long deployments. There are expanded family leave times (12 weeks) for both parents that the DoD has recently issued in their personnel policies that also augment family reunification.


Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (2019). Retrieved from: https://dacowits.defense.gov/

Department of Defense (DoD, 2013). Returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Assessment of readjustment needs of veterans, service members, and their family. Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13499/returning-home-from-iraq-and-afghanistan-assessment-of-readjustment-needs

Department of Defense Live (DoD, 2019). Fact vs Fiction: Common myths about military life. Retrieved from: http://www.dodlive.mil/2016/11/01/fact-vs-fiction-common-myths-about-military-life/

Military.com (2019). 5 things to consider when choosing active duty or reserve pay. Retrieved from: https://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/5-things-to-consider-when-choosing-active-or-reserve-duty.html

Veterans Employment Toolkit (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/vetsinworkplace/

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